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Desecrated billboards, abandoned cabins, and missing persons

Fort St. John author releases new dark fantasy novel set in an alternate northern universe
The author, Norma Rrae (Supplied)

What would you do if you saw your face on a missing persons billboard on the side of a highway?

Would you stop and turn around to see if your eyes were playing tricks on you?

That predicament frames the beginning of a new, locally written young adult fantasy novel, Justyce Scales of the Otherly and Obscura, penned from the mind of Norma Rrae.

Luci, on her way up to Liard Hot Springs to celebrate her sweet 16 with her mother, wants to turn around. Mom just thinks her daughter is seeing things.

But Luci convinces her otherwise and, craning their necks for a second look, they hit a wall of fog and the mother-daughter road trip crashes in a freak accident. When Luci awakes after hitting her head on the dashboard, her mom is missing.

All manner of thrills and horror follow, a story great for preteens and teens who love the television show Stranger Things.

“The fog comes back in and gets super thick, and she’s grabbed by this other woman and pulled into an alternate universe," explains Melanie Mason, who writes her dark fantasy stories under the pseudonym, Norma Rrae.

"She's got to navigate her way through there to try and find her mother… who might not be who's she seems to be."

Mason found her inspiration for the novel from the beauty of the Liard region of Northern B.C., and from her long drives in the opposite direction, down south to Vancouver.

“The hot springs are just stunning. That's always stuck with me, how beautiful it is up north,” she says.

“But the drive down on the way to Hope, there's a series of buildings that have been abandoned and there's all the billboards there. It just kind of started in my head, could you imagine seeing your face up there as a missing persons?”

“Seeing the desecrated billboards and abandoned cabins made me think, what if your face was on that billboard and you just lost yourself in the beauty of the north rather than returning to the ruins?”

Mason has been writing and editing the novel for about three years, and has released it with collaboration and support from Archway Publishing, a self-publishing service from Simon and Shuster.

“It was a chance to get put in front of one of the big five publishing houses,” she says.

Mason had a recent pair of book signings in Edmonton and St. Albert, as well as at the Dawson Creek art gallery and the Snowflakes and Sugarplums market in Fort St. John this past weekend.

She’ll be at Peace Gallery North for a signing this weekend, Dec. 3, for the start of their Artisan Christmas Market.

Read an excerpt of Justyce Scales of the Otherly and Obscura below.

“What’s your name?”

Luci frantically looked around for an exit. Chamier tapped her toe incessantly, waiting for an answer.


“If you say so, girl.”

“Well, it certainly isn’t girl,” Luci said.

She wanted to flee this place. But she couldn’t tell where she’d entered or where she could leave. The chamber stretched further whenever she squinted into the distance. Maybe this was a trial?

A painful moan demanded Luci’s attention. She noticed a man staring at her with thin hair clinging in patches on his scalp. Each breath drained the small fat deposits on his face. Chamier’s word echoed in Luci’s mind, food.

“Well, you certainly don’t smell like a Luci,” Chamier said. She was intent on standing too close and waving her hand through the girl’s floating hair.

Luci didn’t like the way Chamier spoke. The word selection of “smell” and speaking of these people as “food.”

Luci tried to appear casual as she turned away and touched a set of chains on a nearby iron bed. The weight of the chains sent a shivering fear down her neck. Something felt very wrong.

“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” Luci said

“It means your mother is a dreadful liar,” Chamier said.

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